Vanessa Génier finds her happy place in quilting.
Génier, 41, is a Missanabie Cree First Nation member born in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, and now living in Timmins.
She recently started the Quilts for survivors group that sends quilts to residential school survivors across Canada.
Génier has been quilting for more than 30 years. She started when she was nine thanks to a neighbour who showed her how to quilt. At the age of 15, she got a sewing machine for Christmas that has served her for 20 years.
Quilting for Génier is her happy place and a stress reliever.
“Everyone has an outlet, everyone should have a hobby or something that they do that just brings them joy. And that's what quilting does,” she says. “I love picking out patterns… I just love the process. And then I love it when I give it to someone… And I like to see the progress of where I started and where I've come.”
Throughout her life, Génier has worked as a teacher, a finance clerk at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre, a Tupperware consultant as well as at A&W, Pita Pit and Michaels.
Now, she works as a bookkeeper at JMB Consulting and she loves the job, crediting her boss for good leadership skills and constructive criticism allowing Génier to learn and grow.
This spring, she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting from Yorkville University.
“I'm 41. And I just graduated from university," she says. "Anyone can do it. If you put your mind where you really want it, you can do anything."
After she finished high school, she taught at a Christian school in Weagamow First Nation for a year and left the reserve to get married. With her first husband, she had three kids.
Génier is a domestic violence survivor. She left her first husband because of domestic abuse.
“Whether you stay or whether you leave, it's your choice. No one can make that choice for you. And there's no right or wrong choice,” Génier shares insight. “It's in your hands. It's not up to him or up to the family. There's no right or wrong choice. It's just you make the choice that's best for you.”
She also experienced sexual abuse when she was a child. When she was 13, her mother gave advice that helped her. She told Génier she had to forgive so she could move on and not have to carry that around for the rest of her life.
From her second marriage, Génier had two children. Her second husband left the family in March 2020.
Génier says she doesn’t harbour resentment towards her ex-husbands and she tries not to talk ill of them to her kids.
"I tried to tell them the good stories so that they can have at least some positive memories of their dads," she says. "And when they grow up, they can make their own decision how their relationship is going to go."
It was her “sheer determination” along with lots of help and support from her family that helped her as she was going through a divorce amid the pandemic, juggling work and kids who were learning from home.
Her children’s birthdays are very important to Génier. Usually, they invite the family over, decorate the whole house, have dinner, presents and cake. She tries to make their birthdays fun and meaningful to let the kids know they’re loved, cherished and valued in the family.
“Because it’s the one day a year that's just for them. This is the day that we honour you and your arrival into our family. And for whatever reason the Creator put you in our family at the time you were born for a specific purpose,” she says. “And I try to help them to remember that and birthdays are a really big deal at my house.”
Growing up, Génier was homeschooled by her mother and didn’t go to school until she was 12. At home, she learned a lot about cooking, baking and how to take care of the house.
Génier says she's always been like an entrepreneur. When she was about seven or eight, she started a rock painting business where she would collect rocks, paint them and sell the rocks to other kids. Together with her brother, she would also make cookies and walk around the neighbourhood selling them.
She also used to volunteer ever since she was little.
Génier taught Sunday school and was involved with a yearbook committee at her school.
When she was 15, she went to Paris, France, with a mission group for eight weeks. They were taught how to mime to different songs to share the gospel with people. The following summer, she went to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta where she was involved in outreach activities for three weeks. The next summer, she worked at a Bible camp in Manitoba.
Génier says she’s an Indigenous spiritual woman who believes in the Creator.
“Some of my views have changed as I was able to learn more about my culture and my traditions. Not a lot but they've just been tweaked,” she says. “And I just see things a little bit differently. But I always did. Even as a young person, I would question the elders in the church about things.”
In 2018, she organized the first Women’s Holiday Extravaganza.
“It was just a place where women could come and just feel proud to be a woman because sometimes it's really hard for women,” Gènier says. The second annual event was held as a fundraiser for the local women’s shelter. There was an inspirational female speaker, live music, door prizes and draws. Génier had lots of plans for the 2020 event but the pandemic disrupted them.
Génier has an optimistic and realistic outlook on life and hopes someday to be her own boss.
"I don't give up. I'm a very determined person," she says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com